LIVERPOOL’S SUICIDE CONCENTRATION CAMP SECRET
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Liverpool including Merseyside has earned an international reputation for quality popular music such as that of The Beatles, Billy Fury, Charlie Landsborough, The Merseybeats et al ~ and the legendary Liverpool FC football club. The maritime city, 17th in size to UK cities, provided Britain with most of its theatrical and literary talent.
Less well known was the city’s position as a major distribution point for surrendered or captured Axis troops during World War II. From its shipping berths hundreds of thousands of Axis POWs and captured civilians were shipped out and were never to see their homelands again.
Throughout the United Kingdom during World War II were scattered 1,050 concentration camps, officially known as internment camps. Many more were located in the dominions, primarily Canada and Australia.
In Huyton, a Liverpool suburb, there was located one of Britain’s most deplorable of Britain’s shocking concentration camps. The district of Liverpool was a fiendish hell for up to 5,000 foreign civilians as well as prisoners of war. Some German POWs, in defiance of international law, were used to deal with unexploded bombs for the British Army. Britain has confronted many dark parts of its history, but the forbidding tale of foreign nationals being forced to live in squalid internment camps in Merseyside during WW2 remains relatively unknown.
Huyton’s internment camp was also home for up to 5,000 innocent German, Austrian and Italian civilians in 1940-1941, mainly for merely being citizens of Britain’s enemies. It is nearly 80 years since the British government decided it would keep the unfortunate interns in the camp long-term, rather than send them to the Isle of Man, Canada or Australia as first planned.
New research by the Archive Resource for Knowsley (ARK), part of the council’s library service, reveals just how dismal conditions were in the camp on the Woolfall Heath estate. Leaving aside the propaganda of the victors, Britain’s vast concentration camp archipelago was more badly managed and their hapless prisoners were worse treated than were Brits in German camps.
Huyton hosted two different types of camp, one for German prisoners of war, and another off Bluebell Lane for British army training and temporary accommodation for American soldiers. But it is the concentration camp which will shock many today, with most prisoners being actually displaced persons including Jews who had found National Socialist Germany, not to their liking.
When the war began in 1939, the government became worried about possible National Socialist sympathisers’ intent on sabotaging the war effort. Tribunals assessed the loyalties of 80,000 Germans and Austrians living in Britain, and Italians too after Italy joined the war. Initially, only high-risk cases were kept captive, but even the low or medium risk were rounded up too, arriving in Huyton’s Woolfall estate from May 1940 onward.
The council housing estate was chosen as it lay empty but unfinished, after house building to meet Liverpool’s growing population was interrupted by war. The research highlights the scale of horrendous overcrowding, dismal healthcare, and sanitation, near starvation diets and a lack of shelter in the camps.
Louise Connell and Alan Evans of the ARK examined material from the National Archives, Imperial War Museum, Times newspaper and council archives. Woman and children even in winter barely survived in canvas tents in an area that quickly became waterlogged and filthy, with no washing facilities.
Men were packed 12 to a house intended for 4 / tenants, with only enough coal for a hot bath every two months and no furniture. Horrifyingly, men as old as 70 had no choice but to bed down like cattle on sacks of straw. A single British Army doctor saw to the whole camp, in a makeshift hospital without hot water, beds or specialist equipment.
But the isolation and boredom tormented many internees most, causing several attempted suicides. Prisoners of the British could ease their lack of isolation by viewing local families walking along nearby streets beyond the fences. Some prisoners found solace in painting, composing and self-teaching, earning the camp the nickname Huyton University.
All internees were released in mid-1941 as the threat of German invasion subsided, and the site eventually became a council estate as intended in the mid-1940s. Seventy years later, Lin Rice of ARK said her team hopes to do talks in schools and community groups, so Huyton’s hidden history is not forgotten.
A resident of Liverpool says, “The ex-German paratrooper, Manchester City Goalkeeper Bert Trautmann, was interred here, along with neighbours of my father, who had been born in Liverpool but was of Italian ancestry. They were considered ‘undesirable aliens’ even though they had been born, lived and worked their entire lives in Liverpool.
“An old friend of the family was a captured German soldier who was interned in a POW camp in Melling, off Waddicar Lane. He was a qualified doctor who was conscripted into the Wehrmacht. When the war ended he passed English medical exams and went into practice in Melling as a General Practitioner where he remained until his death, his name was Dr. Anton Wolff, a lovely man.
MICHAEL WALSH is a journalist, broadcaster and the author of RISE OF THE SUN WEEL, EUROPE ARISE, TROTSKY’S WHITE NEGROES, MEGACAUST, DEATH OF A CITY, WITNESS TO HISTORY, THE BUSINESS BOOSTER and THE FIFTH COLUMN VOLUME I and II, and 50 other book titles.
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